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Winemaker Charles, on the protection of our biggest asset

At De Toren Private Cellar, we pride ourselves on meticulous attention to detail, every step of the way. In this article, Charles shares his approach to protecting the integrity of the vineyards to ensure its long-term sustainability, quality and style of wine.

As producers of premium and luxurious wines, our vineyards are invaluable to us and need protection against any potential risks to ensure the deliverance of characterful grapes of the highest quality, year after year.

The biggest threat to vine health in South Africa, in my opinion, is Grapevine Leaf Roll Disease, a virus spread over great distances by ‘vineyard mealy bug’, also known as, Planococcus Ficus Signoret. This virus essentially “clogs up” the vines’ vascular system, disturbing the necessary transportation of nutrients and water – comparable to the effect of cholesterol in the human body. Over time, this will progressively result in reduced plant health, plant resilience, lower crop yield and most importantly the phenolic ripeness of the berries.

To protect our vines, from this horrible demise, we employ a whole range of integrated strategies to: a) eliminate the vineyard mealy bugs and secondly b) remove any infected material and c) rejuvenate the vineyard with virus free material. With this in mind, it is a known fact that with the ageing of a vine comes a certain level of distinction in the top terroirs of the world. The older vines display a superior balance, which in turns results in more complex, well-balanced, highly concentrated berries – exactly the quality of fruit we need to produce our collection of fine wines.

As such we have implemented a ‘zero tolerance policy’ against any infected material. Annually, following harvest, we conduct a detailed vineyard mapping, identifying vines that do show symptoms of disease. Once the mapping is completed, we commence with the removal of all infected plant material from our vineyards, roots and all. This method assists us in protecting the health of the vines directly adjacent to the infected vine, helping reduce the unnecessary reduction in yield potential.

We have concurrently started a Rejuvenation Program for our vineyards to ensure that all diseased plants are replaced immediately. This is implemented through means of our Rejuvenation Camp, better known on the farm as our ‘hospital camp’. In this area, we continuously grow young vines, in need of our weekly attention as well as some extra love and care that allow it to develop a big and resilient root structure. During this period we also trellis the vine, so that by the time that the vine is inter-planted into the main vineyard, it is already 2 to 3 vintages old. This strategy ensures the yield of the mayor vineyard unit will never drop to levels that are not economically sustainable levels. At the same time, the ‘young vines’ will never reach a level greater than 1% of the global vineyard population of De Toren, thus ensuring that is has no impact on the wine quality and style.

To employ these strategies takes time and an extraordinary team. The knowledge, skills and attention to detail of our team assist us in achieving these goals, with the main objective forever remaining to produce wines of the highest quality to delight our valued clients.

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